PROVIDENCE — At some point, Brown will be out of chances to turn this 2021-22 season around.
Has it already arrived? The Bears moved one day closer to what would be a grim reality on Monday evening against Yale.
The Bulldogs built a 14-point lead midway through the second half and held on from there. Kino Lilly Jr. missed a potential tying 3-pointer late and a furious Brown comeback attempt fell short. This defeat at Pizzitola Center, a tense 66-63 final, dropped the Bears to 1-4 in the Ivy League.
How significant is that start through five conference games? Brown’s stated goal since returning from a league-wide hiatus last season was to reach the top four. That earns a ticket to Ivy Madness, a three-game tournament in early March with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
“People can doubt us, and that’s fine,” Brown coach Mike Martin said. “I know the type of people we have. I’m confident we’ll have a great week of practice and see where we’re at on Saturday.”
The Bears nearly completed what would have been a superb comeback from a 55-41 deficit with 10:53 to play. EJ Jarvis tipped home a blocked shot by Jaylan Gainey with 32.1 seconds left to deny Brown a critical defensive stop. Lilly circled the rim on the ensuing possession with his jumper from the left wing, the last real chance for the Bears to draw even.
What does this mean for Brown as it nears the halfway point of its league schedule? Let’s discuss that here.
Sense of urgency for Brown
Penn and Cornell reached the first two versions of the conference tournament — founded in 2016-17 — at just 6-8 in league play. The Quakers, Big Red and Bears finished in a three-way tie at 7-7 in 2018-19, and Penn claimed the fourth spot thanks to a 3-1 record among the trio.
Penn and Brown were even at 8-6 prior to the tournament’s cancellation due to COVID-19 two years ago, and the Quakers would have earned the nod thanks to a lone victory over top seed Yale. The baseline for safe inclusion has been a 9-5 mark — every team finishing there or better has been guaranteed at least a No. 3 seed.
“I’m not worried about a sense of urgency,” Martin said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of not caring enough and not playing hard enough and having enough urgency. I think we have to find answers.
“There are some guys who didn’t play who maybe can help us. We’ve got to look at that in practice offensively and defensively.”
The Bears (9-11, 1-4 Ivy) have dropped seven of their last eight games overall into Saturday’s matchup at Columbia. Brown then plays six of its next seven at home beginning with a Jan. 29 date against Cornell.
Tamenang Choh leads the comeback effort
Tamenang Choh nearly willed Brown to victory all by himself in this one.
The fifth-year forward tossed in a career-high 30 points, including 18 in the second half. Choh’s tough bucket in the lane with 46.7 seconds left made it a 62-61 game and capped a 20-7 run.
“Our team trusts me to make the right plays,” Choh said. “I try to be a little bit more aggressive when things aren’t as fluid as they should be.”
Choh battled a right hip injury earlier in the season, but he certainly seems at full strength now. He’s hit for at least 18 points in each of his last six games and double figures in all but one of his last 10. Choh added 12 rebounds and was 11-for-15 at the foul line while tormenting the Bulldogs (8-8, 2-0 Ivy) at the rim.
“We need that from him,” Martin said. “There are a lot of really good pieces on this team. It’s my job to find a way to put them all together.”
Jaylan Gainey stepping up
Gainey played what was certainly his most complete conference game of the season.
The fourth-year center finished with eight points, eight rebounds and a season-high five blocked shots in 30 minutes. Gainey was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019-20 but totaled only six rejections in his previous four league games this season.
“We all see his physical gifts,” Martin said. “We need him to have the same kind of mentality he had tonight. Nothing is going to be easy — that helps us.”
Gainey’s fourth block of the night came with 2:26 left and helped the Bears cut their deficit to one. Choh missed the second of his two free throws at the other end but grabbed his own rebound and fired down a two-hand slam. It was a 60-59 game that was bound for a thrilling finish.
Missing player hurt the Bears
Brown was without at least one of its defensive sparks off the bench.
Kimo Ferrari was sidelined due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Ferrari was on the bench but out of uniform after appearing in each of the season’s first 18 games.
“He’s in some health protocols,” Martin said. “We think he’ll be back soon.”
Ferrari also missed Saturday’s 76-74 loss at Princeton. Yale and the Tigers shot a combined 41.9% from 3-point range over the last two contests. That’s up significantly from the 30.7% posted by opponents from deep prior to visiting New Jersey.
Ferrari is expected to be available for Saturday’s trip to face the Lions.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Here's 4 takeaways from Brown's just-short comeback bid against Yale